The Little Mermaid brings another happily-ever-after ending for Disney fans (1989)

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The Little Mermaid movie - Ariel underwater - 1989

Little Mermaid movie poster 1989

The Little Mermaid brings more happy endings for Disney

Few stars remain from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Bette Davis — all long gone. The survivors — James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy — rarely make movies anymore.

But one popular collection of screen idols has endured, looks undiminished by age: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy.

How old are they? Only their illustrators know for sure. But they’ve been around more than 50 years, and should last at least 50 more.

Their studio is intact as well. Hollywood’s happiest endings still come from Walt Disney Pictures.

Nothing like a cartoon to stop time, and even pull it back a little. Only at Disney are glass slippers, handsome princes and magic wands accepted without reservation.

The latest animated spectacular from the Disney machine is “The Little Mermaid,” a multi-million-dollar feature that’s bound to generate more big bucks for the highly successful studio. Disney’s last animated feature, “Oliver and Company,” has grossed about $50 million. A re-release this year of “Peter Pan” has pulled in $30 million.

The Little Mermaid movie - Ariel underwater - 1989

Not a movie made for cynics

Cynics better stay away from the latest Disney animated spectacular, “The Little Mermaid.” They’ll never believe this story about a beautiful, blue-eyed mermaid falling in love with a handsome prince, and goodness defeating the evil sea witch.

Of course, cynics wouldn’t have sat through “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” or “Bambi,” either. As Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “The Little Mermaid” takes a lot of its glitter from those golden oldies.

“I wanted us to make a film that had the look and feel and the entertainment and lushness of ‘Pinocchio’,” he said.

“If you talk with writers, directors, animators, designers, effects people, layout artists — across the board in this movie — all the references that I made, the goals I kept setting for them were, ‘Can’t we do something that is like ‘Pinocchio.”‘

The Little Mermaid movie trailer

“The Little Mermaid” is rated “G,” for general audiences. That is how Katzenberg sees it. Say the film is for children and he will grimace, his eyes widening, the jaw stretching. Family entertainment means the entire family, he said.

“They’re fantastic stories, they’re not children’s stories. They’re great stories and they’re made for the kid inside every one of us as opposed to made for children; there’s a real distinction there.

“We try to make it very intelligent, very smart, very sophisticated. There is very little about the film that is cartoonish. Even when it’s animal characters that are speaking, you’ll notice it’s very sophisticated.”

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Ask about romance, action, drama, and Katzenberg will talk strategy, borrowing a page from film mogul Samuel Goldwyn, who insisted the world needed laughter when his competitors were serious, and lamented the disappearance of “messages” when others turned out comedies.

Disney Little Mermaid - Ariel gets legs

But animation belongs to Disney. Who would want to compete with “The Ugly Ducking,” “Peter Pan,” “Fantasia” and dozens of others?

It’s a tradition Katzenberg wouldn’t dream of touching, although a little retouching doesn’t hurt. For “The Little Mermaid,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, that means the richest colors; the brightest melodies, courtesy of “Little Shop of Horrors” composer Alan Menken; and the most vivid illustrations.

“Sleeping Beauty” – the classic animated movie – deemed a top Disney triumph (1959)

Nothing is left to chance. Everyone has to rehearse, even mermaids.

“There’s not a sequence in the film in which there are human characters not staged and shot on film and used as references in order to make sure that the human characters moved very much like people move.

“We built an eight-foot tank, put a woman in it and had her swim around a lot to get the sense of movement and hair – how it moves through the water, and the sense of weightlessness.”

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